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Steve Jobs Defends His Position Against Flash


In a rare move, Apple CEO Steve Jobs posted a 1,500 word blog post defending his companies decision to exclude Flash from their mobile devices. There are some serious misconceptions (lies?) in his claims and Jesse Warden has done an excellent take down of them. The first one is by far my favorite:

Lie  #1: “Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary.”

The Flash IDE, yes.  The Flash Player, no.  Here is a list of technologies open sourced/published by Macromedia/Adobe that are in the Flash Player ecosystem:

  1. ActionScript 3 runtime, called Tamarin.  Given to Mozilla to hopefully utilize in future browsers.
  2. RTMP (and it’s ilk), the protocol for real-time video & audio streaming as well as data (AMF).  Yes, many want “more” open sourced.  Red5 and Wowza seem to be doing just fine with what is there currently.
  3. The SWF format itself, which is what Flash Player plays/runs, has most of it’s spec published in case you want to generate SWF files.

This street goes both ways, too.  Macromedia/Adobe has adopted open source technologies into Flash Player with the hopes of embracing standards, not just the de-facto ones.

  1. ActionScript 1, 2, and 3 are all based on EMCAScript.  Yes, it’s not as compliant as many would like.  Additionally, Adobe did participate in many ECMA Script discussions/debates.  Yes, 4 didn’t turn out so well for Adobe.
  2. The XML parsing is based on E4X, ECMA Script for XML.

I’m not saying Adobe’s open sourced a lot of the Flash Player.  There’s open source, there’s published, and then there is open source.

Regarding their products, he’s wrong there too.  The Flex SDK, one of the biggest boosts for the Flash Platform in the past 4 years, is also open source (yes, the real kind).  Most utilize Flex Builder, built on top of the open source Eclipse.

Using a blanket statement saying Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary is a lie.  It paints an incorrect & negative picture over all the wonderful things Macromedia/Adobe have done in open source around their products.

Anyone has the ability to develop a Flash application without ever giving a dime to Adobe. You go and download the Flex SDK, fire up a text editor, code away and finally compile the SWF. This is something that couldn't be done a few short years ago. There used to be a time that if you wanted to develop Flash content you had to go out and spend big money on Flash.

Adobe has taken some big steps in the right direction since those days. Moving key components to open source has provided a boom in Flash content and given more developers something to embrace. Jobs should be commending the decision instead of lying about what Adobe has done. I'm not saying he is flat our trying to deceive everyone. It could be an honest case that Jobs just doesn't know Flash has done all these steps.

This brings me to another point. One of the biggest arguments I have read over the past few hours about this is that Flash can't be open source because the corporate entity Adobe still controls it. If we are going to use that logic, then it should apply to other open source applications. How about MySQL? What goes into the development of that is decided by Sun/Oracle. Even the popular blogging platform Wordpress is largely controlled by Automattic and Ubunutu is under the control of Canonical. Corporate sponsorship and management of open source projects is not an uncommon move. Given the amount of time involved in developing such robust platforms, it is actually a necessary step.

Now Jobs does bring up some good points, like Flash being a big drain on the battery, but Adobe has also been working to address that. Instead of working with Adobe, Jobs would rather try and shut them out all together. That's a poor move in my opinion. It limits the experience of Apple customers. Also Apple is trying to do this to move the web to HTML5, which isn't even finalized yet and will take years to filter down to all users on the web. Face it, as developers we still have to deal with IE6 and all its quirks.

But for me, the biggest gripe is in Jobs' claim that Apple is somehow the self-anointed king of openness. That claim is laughable. If Apple embraced openness so much, then why did a Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist have to fight to get his app in the Apple App Store?

Apple has always been about control, and with that control you can not claim openness. Running such control is not a bad thing per say. Apple can help insure that their users end up having a decent experience with their product, since they don't have the ability to do anything stupid with it, but that also means that Apple has more control over the device you buy than alot of people really like giving up.

Now I am just wondering how long before Apple figures out a way to prohibit Flash on their OS X? At this point in the game, I wouldn't be surprised to see such a move happen in the future.


(For full disclosure: I do offer development services in Flash. It isn't my favorite thing to do, but it isn't that bad either.)